Hamas' blitzkrieg in Gaza was "ordered" by the
Tehran-Damascus "axis" to make the peace and democratic processes in
Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palestine crumble. These putsches (as
well as Hezbollah's) were parallel to the perceived weakening of
America's resolve against the two regimes. Last year's congressional
elections were read by the axis not in terms of partisan results but in
terms of divisions affecting U.S. foreign polic
The offensives led by Hezbollah and Hamas immediately after publicizing
the Baker-Hamilton report are the evidence. When advice to the U.S.
president recommended "talking" to Iran and Syria about the "future of
the region," followed by a visit to Damascus by House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi, the axis gave the green light to the spring offensives
Hamas' putsch pre-empted its opponents. The brutality was part of
psychological deterrence: beheadings, torture, executions and other
horrors. These repugnant images were never seen by Palestinians before,
even at the hands of whom they believe were worse enemies in Israel,
Jordan and Lebanon over four decades. The jihadist massacre of
Palestinians created shock among the civilians in Gaza and beyond. Hamas
wanted this Talibanesque-style to serve as a deterrent, but no one can
guarantee future reactions. However, the Gaza "Taliban" will consolidate
its grip as a prelude to destabilizing the West Bank and transform the
enclave into a bastion for jihad with the following actions:
* Levy an army of 60,000 fighters with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah
expected to provide weapons and training.
* Establish many "Fallujahs" in the strip in anticipation of an
"outside" offensive: no-surrender urban fortresses to deter any would-be
*Deploy batteries of missiles while using the population as human
* Use civilian travel to the West Bank to insert cells inside the
Palestinian Authority territories.
* Link up with supporters within the camps in Lebanon, in Jordan and
among Arabs inside Israel.
*Activate overseas cells (including in the United States and the West)
to deter American and international potential action in the future.
* And last but not least, the Gaza Taliban could become the recipient of
future Iranian non-conventional weaponry, including tactical nuclear
Western response is strategically obligatory but not necessarily
automatic. The rise of such an entity between Israel and Egypt, with
access to the Mediterranean, is a direct threat to Arab moderates, the
U.S. and Western presence and the peace process.
So what can be done and by whom? The Israelis have the military might,
but shouldn't rush to Gaza alone, unless dramatic events arise — for it
would, according to projections and lessons from Lebanon, give Hamas
what it wants, and that is legitimacy. The Palestinian Authority units
would logically be the ones to move in but they are too weak now. An
international force (with U.S. backing) would be resisted by the
jihadists, both locally and internationally and with barbaric terror.
Egypt has vital interest in removing a terror regime from Gaza. The
Sinai bombings in recent years were only a prelude to what is to come if
such an "emirate" is established. But Egypt needs Arab backing, which
will be opposed by Syria, and ironically by Qatar, too — the new
champion of the Islamists in the region.
But a strategic response to "Hamastan" is possible under a set of
conditions, including international coordination, different attitudes in
the region's capitals and significant strategic enhancement in America
Hamas will consolidate its "acquisition" with Iran and Syria, moving to
protect the new status quo and to waste as much time as possible. Two
games will go on: One is to deepen the defenses of Gaza; two is to deny
the threat. Khaled Mashal, the Syrian-based boss of Hamas, used generous
al Jazeera airtime to assuage fears. "Yes, we are Islamists, but we
aren't establishing a religious state (yet)," he said, repeating what
the Islamic Courts said in Mogadishu earlier this year.
"We have good relations with Iran and Syria, but that doesn't mean
anything," he continued. Then he offered a panoply of psychological
gadgets: Continue to recognize Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president;
"work" on liberating a British hostage; welcome Arab initiatives;
display the Palestinian flag higher than Hamas'; make sure the
"struggle" is still on, as the group pledged it will continue the fight
In fact, attacking Israel is Hamas' insurance against the Palestinian
Authority's containment. Thus, it is important that the Salam Fayyad
government press for an isolation of Hamas. The key to such success is
in the hands of a united Abbas-Fayyad effort, but Fatah's negative past
needs to be addressed by radical reforms before the Palestinian
Authority is upgraded to full partnership in the war on terror.
The immediate future of Hamastan demands keen skills from Washington and
Brussels, to calibrate the response to the regional Syrian-Iranian
threat. And until the fog of uncertainties disappears, "Palestine'' is
now divided between Taliban and mujahideen.
***Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting fellow at the
European Foundation for Democracy.